HL Deb 22 May 1985 vol 464 cc291-3

2.48 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when they hope to inform those who have applied for inclusion in the extended Less Favoured Area Scheme of their decision to be included or excluded, and what criteria or constraints will be used to determine such applications.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, farmers have until 31st July to make representations against exclusion from the Less Favoured Areas. Each representation will be tested against the land quality, economic and demographic criteria which Less Favoured Areas are required to satisfy. Any subsequent adjustments to the LFA line will then have to be agreed by the European Commission, and I cannot therefore yet predict when we shall be able to tell farmers of the outcome of their representations.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend for that Answer. I should also like to ask whether it is true that there is a 1 per cent. ceiling put on this extra land that could be included in the Less Favoured Areas, and that if this 1 per cent. is exceeded we have to go to Brussels. I should further like to ask whether this ceiling, or possible ceiling, is in fact being transferred by the Government to the assessors, so that the assessors are taking (shall I say?) a very mean view of including other farmers in the area.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, let us be clear that the extension of the Less Favoured Area Scheme in the United Kingdom was 1.2 million hectares last year, within a total of 9.8 million hectares. It was a very considerable extension. But my noble friend is asking me about appeals from those who wish to be included and who have not been included. It is the case that if the European Commission—at that level—is to decide any extra representations, those have to be within 1½per cent. of a member state's territory: otherwise, we have to make our representations to the Council of Agriculture Ministers. Finally, let me make it clear to my noble friend that we are considering all representations.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, we all know the difficulties in deciding where the line of the Less Favoured Areas should begin. I have had experience in EC work and in the ministry. Does the advisory committee help the assessor? I know that that is the case with local farmers. It helps the situation considerably if the advisory committee helps or advises the assessor, who has a very difficult job.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, farmers who are unhappy about the exclusion of their area may write to their divisional office giving appropriate details and asking for reassessment. With the exception of Northern Ireland, where all representations will be considered by an independent panel, representations will be considered initially by officials. However, any farmer whose representation is rejected on land quality grounds, will be able to make a further appeal to the regional panel of his area.

Lord Gibson-Watt

My Lords, while commending the action of the Minister of Agriculture in getting the Less Favoured Areas in Britain greatly extended, will my noble friend agree that, as in the case of the hill cattle subsidy some years ago, to get the delineation of the boundaries correct is an extremely difficult exercise? Therefore, will his right honourable friend have consultations with such other bodies and perhaps the regional representative which he has in each region?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, it is precisely because of the reason which my noble friend has outlined that we have set up the representations procedure to enable these problems to be resolved. Let me repeat that that procedure includes the absolute right of a farmer who is unhappy with a decision to go to the regional panel if he has been rejected on land quality grounds.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will the noble Lord give the House some indication as to the amount included in the Community budget for 1984–85 or any payments under this head? Will he give some further indication of any amount that may have been earmarked for the United Kingdom?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I must apologise to the noble Lord but I do not know the answer to his first question and, if I may, I shall write to the noble Lord and put my reply in the Library because I think that it is of importance to the House to know the answer to the question and I apologise for not knowing it.

As regards the noble Lord's second question, 53 per cent. of the United Kingdom is now designated as being less favoured and that, of course, is of very great importance to us when one bears in mind that the vast majority of the farming businesses in the Less Favoured Areas would have found it exceedingly difficult to continue to trade if they had not benefited both from the capital allowances and from the hill livestock compensatory allowances.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, is it true that the original designation of these areas was based on very old maps and also on a very old ministry land classification map which does not now correctly reflect productivity?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the exercise was undertaken with very great care. The case which we put to the Council to extend the Less Favoured Areas in this country, which, as I have said, was a very successful operation, was the result of what was called the "marginal land survey", which began in 1980. That involved looking at poor quality land near to, or contiguous with, the original LFAs. It included desk work, relying on maps and local knowledge, but it also involved physical inspection on the ground. Therefore, I hope that I have made it clear to my noble friend that the map work was only a part of what was a very closely done exercise.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, the Minister has said that 53 per cent. of the United Kingdom is now classified as less favoured. Will he give us the proportions? Will he tell us the proportion of the 53 per cent. which is applicable to Scotland?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, it is getting towards 90 per cent. Some 5,717,000 hectares were originally designated in Scotland as less favoured, and another 74,000 were added as an extension of Less Favoured Areas last year. I have to admit to the noble Lord, Lord Ross, that I do not have the exact percentage, but it is very near the percentage that I hazarded. It is very high indeed and I am very glad that that is the case.

Forward to